Sidor som bilder
[ocr errors]

He had succeeded in escaping on the night of the 14th December, and hoped to make his way to Sweden : thus he reached the Tolbuchin lighthouse, where he was known to the sailors as an assistant of the Lighthouse Board. There he sought a few hours' repose, but was unluckily recognised as a fugitive by the wife of one of the sailors, detained, and sent back to the Winter Palace. Exhausted by hunger, fatigue, and cold, he entreated the Grand Duke Michael, whom he saw on his arrival, to allow him to take some refreshment before he was interrogated. In the same room the supper of the Adjutant had just been brought up. The Grand Duke told Betuschew to sit down, and converged with him during the meal. When he left the room the Prince said to his aide-de-camp, God be thanked, I did not know that fellow the day before yesterday, for I believe he would have drawn me in too !” The Emperor received Betuschew kindly, and said to him, “You know I can pardon you; and if I can be sure that you will serve me faithfully in future, I should be willing to pardon you." Betuschew answered, “ Your Majesty, that is precisely the grievance, that you can do anything, that you are above the law. Au we wanted to do was this—to bring it to pass that the fate of your subjects should henceforth depend on the law alone, and not on your caprice."' (P. 76.)

Several months were spent by the prisoners in the narrow and gloomy dungeons of the adjoining fortress. To Baron Rosen this confinement was aggravated by separation from his young wife, who was about to bear him a son. Once, however, they were allowed to meet, and to exchange a letter once a month. Trial, in the proper sense of the term, there was none; but the accused were brought up for examination before a Special Commission of General Officers and Privy Councillors, by whom they were convicted and sentenced, chiefly out of their own mouths, but sometimes on a mere suspicion of constructive treason. Every incident of the conspiracy was, however, minutely weighed. Rosen was expressly charged with having halted his men on the Isaac bridge, and with being a friend of some of the leading conspirators. He denied that he had ever himself belonged to any secret society. For these offences he was condemned to ten years' forced labour and perpetual seclusion in Siberia, preceded, of course, by the loss of his military rank and his nobility. The convicts were classed in twelve categories—the first, consisting of Pestel, Ryléjew, Sergius Murawjew-A postol, Betuschew-Rjumin, and Kachowsky, were condemned to death by quartering, which sentence was commuted to death by the gallows. The second category of thirty-one persons, including Prince Trubetskoy and Prince Obolensky, were condemned to be beheaded; their sentence was commuted to perpetual forced labour in Siberia,



The other ten classes were sentenced to various periods of forced labour, and all to banishment. Rosen, with four others, was in the fifth class. The reading of the sentences to the prisoners in succession lasted no less than five hours. Every dungeon in the fortress gave up its wretched inmate, and the comrades met once more, some of them for the last time. On the following day, the 13th July, those who were sentenced to Siberia were marched in succession to the foot of a gibbet, which had been erected on the glacis ; their uniforms were torn off, their swords were broken over their heads; they were then clad in the dreary striped overcoat worn in the Russian prisons and hospitals, and marched back to the cells. Rosen was taken to the cell of Ryléjew, who had that instant been led out to die.

* For while we were enacting this scene on the glacis of the fortress, the Five who were condemned to death were conveyed in chains and death-robes to the chapel, where they heard their own funeral service. The dreary procession left the chapel for the Kronwerk bastion; on the way

Murawjew spoke some words of comfort to his friend Betuschew, and then turning to the priest Myslowsky, expressed his regret that it should be his painful duty to accompany them to the spot where they were to die the death of thieves. Myslowsky replied by repeating the words of the Saviour to the thief upon the cross. When they drew near to the gallows, the Five embraced each other, and were placed in a row on the scaffold. When the halters were fixed, and the scaffold dropped, Pestel and Kachowsky alone were hanged; the three others were thrown down with violence on the planks below and hurt. On this, Murawjew exclaimed with a sigh, "Even this is more than they know how to do in our country!” The sarcasm was wrung from him by the smart of his wound, which had not healed since the 3rd of January. While the scaffold was again raised and the halters again adjusted, some minutes passed of indescribable horror. The three condemned men, whose lives would probably have been saved under any other circumstances by such an accident, employed that interval in uttering a last blessing on their country, and a last prayer for the future of their countrymen. For the rest of the day the bodies remained hanging on the gallows; at night they were cut down, and buried either on the shore of the Chuntujew Island, or, as some say, in the prison. So ended the execution of the 13th of July, 1826.' (P. 125.)

Although it is impossible to read or to record without emotion the fate of these unfortunate gentlemen, who were undoubtedly in the highest degree brave, disinterested, cultivated, and patriotic, yet it would be unjust to the Russian Government and to the Emperor Nicholas to deny that the leaders of this formidable conspiracy and insurrection had fully incurred the penalties of high treason. They had attempted, by secret com

bination and open violence, to set aside the succession ; and even this was only the pretext for a more complete revolution in the empire. They had prepared a new form of government, and they had designated the persons who were to hold office under it. Some of them even contemplated the murder of the Emperor; and most of them added the crime of military revolt to that of civil disaffection. In every country, therefore, such an enterprise must have entailed condign punishment on its authors. The crime of treason is not the less dangerous to society because the motives of those who engage in it are often pure and heroic.

The charge, therefore, against the Russian Government is not that five of these persons were executed, and more than one hundred consigned to the horrors of forced labour in Siberia. As regards the guilty that was lawful, and under the circumstances inevitable. But the true charge against Nicholas and his servants appears to us to be, that these offenders were tried by a secret inquisition, and not by any form of judicial trial; that the members of the Commission who conducted this inquiry were military officers, statesmen, and servants of the Crown, not judges; that the evidence was of the most questionable kind, and that some persons were convicted on a mere presumption against them ;* that the punishment awarded, and the classification into categories, was purely arbitrary; and that, above all, Nicholas, during the whole course of his reign, for a period of thirty years, showed a most harsh, unforgiving, and unmerciful spirit to these exiles. Few of them

* The Commission was not a Court Martial, nor did it pretend to apply martial law; but it was presided over by Tatischtchew, the War Minister. The Grand Duke Michael also sate upon it. On one occasion Tchernytschew (a member of the Commission, afterwards War Minister) asked one of the prisoners who had been brought in from the South of Russia,' what he would have done if he had been in St. ‘Petersburgh on the 14th of December ?' He was at the time absent on leave in Moscow. The question was so insidious that Count Benkendorff, another member of the Commission, and a highly honourable man, sprang from his chair, seized Tchernytschew by the arm, and exclaimed, “Ecoutez, vous n'avez pas le droit d'adresser une pareille

question ; c'est une affaire de conscience.' Tatischtchew, the President, said one day to a group of the prisoners before him, “Gentlemen, 'you have done nothing but read Tracy, Benjamin Constant, and Bentham, and you see what it has brought you to. I have read nothing all my life long but the Holy Scriptures, and you see what I have earned by it !'-pointing at the same time to the double row of stars and decorations which glittered on his breast.


[ocr errors]

received any alleviation of their punishment. None of them were pardoned, although the Emperor himself told the Duke of Wellington, who was sent as Ambassador Extraordinary to his coronation, that he meant to astonish Europe by his clemency. But, on the contrary, he persecuted them to the last with a savage vindictiveness, which savoured of personal hatred; and it was reserved for his son, the reigning Emperor Alexander, to restore the scanty remnant of the survivors to their place in society-which, to his honour, was done by his command as one of the very first acts of his reign.

Some months elapsed after the execution of the Five, before the remaining prisoners were all sent to their destination. Eight of the principal offenders, including Prince Trubetskoy, Prince Obolensky, and Prince Wolkousky, whose lives had been spared by the Emperor, were despatched at once to work underground in the quicksilver mines of Nertschinsk, where they remained for many years. Most of the other convicts were at least permitted to see the light of day. They were sent off in squads of three or four at a time, in sledges drawn by post-horses; but they performed the journey in irons, which were not removed till some eighteen months after they had arrived in Siberia. One of them, named Nasimow, was sent to Nishni-Kolymsk, a station so remote that he was conveyed there partly on pack-horses and partly in sledges drawn by dogs, and more than once had to pass the night in the open air or in a snow hut, with thirty degrees (Réaumur) of cold. In comparison with this, the fate of Baron Rosen and his companions was less cruel. They were allowed to see their relations for an hour once a week in the fortress, before their departure; and he took the opportunity to urge his wife not to follow him to Siberia, until he should send for her. Meanwhile Colonel Leparsky, an old officer of humanity and merit, was sent to select a spot near the Baikal Lake, where a prison was to be erected by the convicts themselves, and a provisional settlement formed. The place chosen was the Siberian fortress of Tchita, about 400 versts from Nertschink. The distance from St. Petersburgh was about 6,000 versts; to state it more intelligibly, more than four thousand English miles. This journey was performed by Rosen and his comrades between the 5th of February and the 29th of March, travelling without intermission through the coldest habitable region of the earth. Their sufferings were to some extent alleviated by the goodnatured sympathy of the peasantry for the 'unfortunates, as they were called. They crossed the Baikal Lake while it was frozen, the Siberian horses leaping over rifts in the ice with

[ocr errors]


such astonishing agility that they carried the sledge after them, without touching the water.

Thus were eighty-two gentlemen of rank and education suddenly torn from civilisation, freedom, and domestic life, to be settled as convicts, under a severe discipline, in the rudest tract of the Russian Empire. Tchita was not an unhealthy spot. The sky was bright, and the valley so renowned for its wild flowers that it was called the Garden of Siberia ;' but the summer, that is the cessation of frost, only lasted five weeks. Life passed in constant hard labour and unbroken monotony. Books were rare, and writing materials prohibited. A singing class was formed, which beguiled some weary hours. Chess was played. Cards might have been procured, but the exiles came to a resolution to allow no play amongst themselves. One of their greatest grievances was the dirt and want of ventilation of their quarters, which were too small for the number of persons occupying them. Rosen remained here, however, three years and a half.

The most remarkable incident of this gloomy period was the arrival of the ladies, who succeeded, in spite of the ill-will of the Government, the difficulty of the journey, and the rude life of a Siberian village, in forcing their way to Siberia to join their husbands.

The first of these heroines who reached Tchita, was Alexandrine Merawjew, born a Countess of Tchernytschew, of the same name as the member of the Special Commission before alluded to, who attempted in her absence to appropriate the fortune of her brother, he being, as well as her husband, among the convicts. This lady was twenty-four years of age, goodlooking, tall, and full of life and spirits. She left her only son under the care of its grandmother, and hastened to Siberia to share the privations of outlawry and banishment. But what was her horror of disappointment when she was informed by the Commandant that even there she could only be allowed to see her husband once a week for a short time in the presence of an officer of the prison! Day after day she opened and closed the shutter of her hut as the convicts passed on their way to labour, as a sign of her presence. This system of barbarous interference lasted for three years.

The ladies who next arrived were a Princess Elizabeth Naryschkin, born Countess Konownitzin, with a companion. They, too, were debarred from free intercourse with their husbands. But they were enabled to perform a multitude of genial services to the band of prisoners : they nursed them in sickness; they sent for medicaments and surgical instruments


« FöregåendeFortsätt »